Christmas Night with the Stars 1972

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This was the final regular edition of CNWTS, with the Two Ronnies on hand on introduce Cilla Black, the Young Generation, Lulu, Mike Yarwood & Adrienne Posta, The Liver Birds, The Goodies and Dad’s Army.

Unlike David Nixon and Jack Warner, the Ronnies took a much more active role in proceedings, which means that it feels somewhat like an extended Two Ronnies show (most notably at the start, which opens in the time honoured way – news items, followed by a Two Rons party sketch).  This explains why the cut-down DVD version (excising all the other participants apart from Lulu and Cilla Black) still works pretty well as a Two Ronnies show in its own right.

The Young Generation back Lulu, as well as enjoying their own spot.  There’s rather a lot of them, aren’t there?  After Lulu and the Young Generation have leapt about for a few minutes, the Goodies arrive – via a film sequence which promises a grubby urchin the Christmas of his life (thanks to the Goodies Travelling Instant Five Minute Christmas).  Dialogue-free, it’s packed with typical Goodies sight gags as well as a healthy dose of comic violence (would they be able to get away with hitting a boy over the head with an outsized mallet today? Probably not).

Up next is The Liver Birds, which sees Beryl (Polly James) and Sandra (Nerys Hughes) reflecting on various aspects of Christmas – overindulgence and family relationships being top of the agenda.  The kind-hearted Sandra regards the remains of the turkey with sadness, whilst Beryl – always more pragmatic – has a different point of view. “Well, it’s his destiny isn’t it? I mean we’ve all got to die sometimes, it’s just that some of us go in black cars surrounded by flowers and some of us go in roasting tins surrounded by spuds.”

The Two Ronnies return for a some chat about their respective Christmases, which is notable for the number of times that Ronnie B stumbles over his lines. It’s a little odd that they didn’t do a retake, so either time was tight or it was decided that on Christmas Day the audience would be in a mellow mood and therefore more forgiving.

I’ve written elsewhere, about Mike Yarwood’s later career when his star was somewhat waning.  Here, a decade earlier, he’s pretty much at the top of his game – although this is a sequence that’s very much of its time (and if I’m being honest, a few of the impressions are a little weak).  The setting is a party at Number 10, so you won’t be surprised to hear that Harold Wilson and Edward Heath are in attendance (as is Frankie Howerd, for some strange reason).  Adrienne Posta provides support, but the topical nature of the piece makes it less effective than the more universal nature of the rest of the programme.

As a child, I tended to find Ronnie C’s chair monologues rather dull.  Now they’re often the highlight of their shows (funny how times and tastes change) so I’m glad one was included here.  Ronnie C also joins Cilla Black for a little crosstalk and a song, although how much you get from this part of the show will probably depend on how high your tolerance to Cilla Black is.

For me, we’re on firmer ground with Dad’s Army.  The platoon are incredibly proud to have been selected by the BBC to broadcast live to the nation on Christmas Day, but things aren’t as straightforward as Mainwaring would have hoped.  The rehearsals are slightly chaotic – thanks to the script provided by the BBC.  They’d assumed that the sergeant would be a cockney and the officer a gentleman, so Wilson is somewhat bemused that his part is full of slang whilst Mainwaring is incensed to be told that he doesn’t sound like an officer!  When the BBC man suggests that maybe they swop roles, the expressions on the faces of both Le Mesurier and Lowe are a joy!  With the rest of the platoon pitching in, notably to produce sound effects (Pike is in his element when asked to provide bird sounds) this is a nicely-written sequence with a decent pay off.

Following another quick Two Ronnies sketch, Cilla Black is back (along with a children’s choir – always a good bet at Christmas) to round things off before the Two Rons say goodbye with a selection of news item.

“And now it’s a Merry Christmas from me. And it’s a Happy New Year from him. Goodnight.”

 

Dad’s Army – The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage

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No doubt helped by endless re-runs, Dad’s Army remains one of the most familiar British archive sitcoms.  For some, this familiarity has bred contempt, but whilst parts of it have worn thin over the years (Corporal Jones really needs a good slap) the sheer number of episodes means that you can still stumble over a less well-known instalment which will have a few surprises.

This is particularly true of the surviving episodes from the first two series, as their black and white nature has meant that they don’t get repeated as often as their colour counterparts.  And two episodes from the second series (Operation Kilt and The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage) were only rediscovered in 2001 (in film cans which had spent twenty five years rusting in a garden shed) which gave even hardened Dad’s Army watchers at the time the chance to experience something “new”.

As a child, it was the large-scale visual episodes which appealed, such as The Day the Balloon Went Up, which saw the platoon set off in hot pursuit after Captain Mainwaring, who’d been carried away by a barrage balloon!  As I’ve got older, I find the character-based episodes to be more to my taste.  Ones such as Branded (which saw Godfrey’s courage called into question) and A. Wilson, Manager? (Wilson’s promotion infuriates Mainwaring) now entertain me more.

Although the comedy in Dad’s Army is often broad, it’s also based on historical fact.  The Home Guard was poorly equipped to begin with, which was a worry for many – especially as a German invasion was believed to be imminent.  With guns and ammunition in short supply, other methods of defence and attack had to be found – this webpage has some interesting information, such as the fact that one Home Guard unit carried pepper with them, which they intended to throw into the enemy’s faces!

In The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage, Mainwaring calls his men to the Novelty Rock Emporium, which will be their command post in the event of a German invasion.  The viewer, armed with the knowledge that no invasion was ever attempted, is immediately placed at an advantage over the platoon.  Therefore when the church bells ring and everybody jumps to the wrong conclusion (the Germans have arrived) we can be secure in the knowledge that everything will be all right.

This might been the cue for some slapstick comedy, but instead Perry & Croft go a little darker to begin with.  Mainwaring, Jones and Frazer believe that they’re the only members of the platoon left in the town who can deal with the Germans, so they head off to Godfrey’s cottage (an ideal place to mount a defence, due to its strategic location) in order to make a last ditch attempt to repel the attackers.  All three accept that they’re going to their deaths, but deal with this stoically.  It’s only a brief moment, but it’s a lovely character touch that says so much.

There’s a certain amount of contrivance which has to employed in order to get the plot to work.  Mainwaring, Jones and Frazer have now reached Godfrey’s cottage and Jones puts on an old German helmet (from Godfrey’s adventures in WW1) to defend himself with.  The other members of the platoon, approaching the cottage, see a figure with a German helmet and naturally jump to the wrong conclusion.

Godfrey’s genteel home life – he lives with his two sisters, Dolly (Amy Dalby) and Cissy (Nan Braunton) – is rudely shattered by the arrival of Mainwaring and his machine gun.  If Godfrey seems to be a little disconnected from the realties of life, then that’s even more the case with his sisters.  Dolly’s reaction when she hears that the Germans are coming is just to fret that she’ll have to go and make a great deal more tea for all of their new visitors.

Possibly the most interesting part of the story is how the various members of the platoon deal with the pressure of apparently being under attack from the Germans.  Pike is naturally terrified, Mainwaring is resolute and determined to fight on to the bitter end, whilst Wilson is somewhat hesitant and indecisive (no real change from his normal character then).  But when Wilson believes that the “Germans” in the cottage have surrendered, he initially wants to send Walker out to negotiate with them, whilst he remains behind in safety.  It’s small character moments like this which make The Battle of Godfrey’s Cottage a very rewarding episode to rewatch.

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Public Information Films

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Network’s Charley Says is a DVD that I find myself returning to on a regular basis. Partly because it’s television nostalgia in bite-sized pieces, but there’s also a fascinating wealth of British cultural history contained within these short films.

The Central Office of Information (COI) was founded in 1946 as the peace-time successor to the Ministry of Information (MOI). Post war, the battered and weary nation was drip fed the encouraging message that Britain would rebuild and restore itself to her former glory. Yes, all good propaganda – but skilfully presented.

By the 1960’s, the COI found itself creating shorter films for television. These covered a wide range of subjects, some were animated and others live-action. Ans since many of them were repeated for several decades, they became firmly lodged in the public consciousness.

For those who want to watch online, the National Archive has many of the public information films produced between 1945 and 2006 available on their website.

But for any newcomers to the wide world of PIFs, here is my own personal top five –

Number Five – When in the Country (1963)

This is longer than the normal television PIF and that fact it was made in colour suggests it was intended for cinema release.  It’s nicely animated and whilst, like many PIFs, it does tend to state the blindingly obvious, it’s rather charming nonetheless.

Number Four – Splink (1976)

The Splink campaign was never as popular as the long-running series with Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Man, for the simple reason that the Splink drill was so incredibly difficult to remember!  Still, the appearance of Jon Pertwee is something of a consolation.

Number Three – Dad’s Army – Pelican Signals (1974)

Familiar faces were very often used in PIFs in order to sell the message to the viewers and this one is no different.  The incongruous sight of  the Dad’s Army cast on a 1970’s street is strange, but since they didn’t have Pelican Crossings during the war it’s fair enough.

Number Two – Protect and Survive – Action after Warnings (1975)

This is frankly terrifying,whilst the suggestion that you can survive a nuclear attack by jumping into a ditch is a bit difficult to swallow as well! The Protect and Survive films, in addition to a handy booklet, were designed only to be used when the government decided that an attack was imminent.  Thankfully this never came to pass, so the films were never broadcast – but several, like this one, later surfaced and they’re all fascinating viewing.

Of course, if there was a nuclear attack then the only thing left to do would be to die – but whilst the tone of the PIF is bleak, there’s still a sliver of hope offered to the survivors.

For further reading, in 2007 BBC published a transcript of a radio message that had been drafted for broadcast in the event of a nuclear attack.  It can be read here.

Once the Protect and Survive booklet became public knowledge, the government were pressured into releasing it – so it was eventually published in May 1980.  It can be read here.

Number One – Cycle Safety Song – Get Yourself Seen (1978)

And after thoughts of death and destruction, let’s end on a lighter note with a PIF that has a song so catchy I still find myself humming it to this very day!